DRINKS REVIEW: WINE ISLAND

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Aloha from Wine Island! For four days in mid-November Clark Island in Sydney Harbour was transformed into a wine oasis. Hosted by a toucan named Suzanne, the event showcased 100 unique local and overseas wines in addition to food huts, bars and island beats. It was a hot, sunny day where funky hats, sundresses, Hawaiian shirts and leis were de jour and you could sit back, relax and drink wine that was no mere drop in the ocean.

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The festival had general admission and VIP sessions. The latter entitled you to unlimited tastings from the likes of Chaffey Bros., Thomas Wines, Fox Gordon, Clyde Park, Tintilla Estate and others, as well as complimentary masterclasses and a total of four hours on the island. Clark Island is a tranquil, national park that takes around ten minutes to walk around. What it lacks in stature it more than makes up for in beautiful aspect (there are views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera House and Sydney Tower (Centrepoint)) as well as lush, bushland greenery.

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The journey to the island was by a ferry that was included in the ticket price. The boat departed from the Man o’War Steps outside of the Sydney Opera House and the journey was under 15 minutes. Patrons on board were treated to a complimentary glass of sparkling Rotari wine to get themselves in a festive mood.

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Wine Island featured a number of masterclasses that were hosted by Wine Selectors (a large, independent direct marketer of wine that supports over 400 producers.) The classes included a Bubbles Off! Prosecco tasting as well as a dessert pairing lesson and a silent disco. One of the most informative sessions of the day was the one dedicated to New Wave Wines. These varieties typically hail from hot climates like Portugal, Spain and Italy, and while they are relatively unknown in Australia, they are proving to be a robust grape that enjoys the conditions in our warm climate.

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There was a Vermentino heralding from McLaren Vale. This was a refreshing, white drop with a high acidity. It is a good match for seafood, especially sardines. The Oliver’s Taranga Fiano is another white variety that sits between a Semillon and a Viognier. The grapes originally herald from the Avellino Hills east of Napoli and this is best paired with rich and creamy dishes. The red, 2014 Touriga by De Iuliis (a good vintage for the Hunter Valley) had a supple profile that is a great match for richer, high fat foods. The Touriga grape is also the key variety used in the production of port.

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The cheese masterclass was a popular one throughout the festival with some punters missing out. The cheeses were provided by Australia On A Plate, a wholesale supplier of speciality cheese. A strong, washed rind cheese from the Timboon region was paired with a Pinot Gris from 6 Foot 6 Wine. The cheese was made from organic cow’s milk and it was so soft it melted in your mouth. The second cheese was a Montasio, Italian raw milk cheese that is produced using traditional techniques first employed in the 13th century by monks as well as newer methods. This had a nutty tone and a savoury finish and was paired with a GSM wine. This was a blend of Grenache (66%) as well as Shiraz and Merlot and had a silky and smoky texture.

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The Tarwin Blue by Berry’s Creek has been voted the Best International Blue Cheese. This had a straw-like flavour profile with a little spice. It also converted some individuals who weren’t normally fans of blue cheese. This was paired with a sweet, fresh fruit-driven tawny by Keeper’s Glove. The patrons that missed out on the cheese masterclass also had the chance to sample some cheeses from the Hunter Valley Cheese Company because they were selling tasty artisan cheese and charcuterie platters in individual and share plate size.

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There were a number of gourmet food options available from A.P.E (Artisan Pasta Espresso) of Potts Point selling cheese risottos while Banksii Vermouth Bar & Bistro had a number of different options including kingfish and salad; corn with pepperberry butter and parmesan; and a maple-glazed pork belly with bullhorn relish and red radish. The biggest hit on the island however, were the Chur burgers. The chicken with minted slaw and hot mayo sold out on Sunday. They also had a classic cheese burger with grilled beef, tomato jam, mustard mayonnaise and pickles. There was also a separate hut selling fresh oysters from the Clyde River that were shucked fresh before your very eyes.

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Wine Island was a fun day. You could grab a mate and play some Jenjo, dance along to an island soundtrack by DJ Charlie Villas, ask the wine producers some questions, or grab a deckchair, sip wine and watch the world go by. Wine Island was a great festival for adults because it was like being on a warm paradise. So to finish let’s all raise our glasses to Wine Island and look forward to its return in 2017!

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Originally published in December 2016 at the following website: https://www.theaustraliatimes.com/magazine/gourmet/issue/412/#21

Visit The Australia Times’ homepage at: http://www.theaustraliatimes.com/

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